Disclaimer: This is an opinion column. I’m not preaching gospel here. Don’t attack me for some of the things I say in this post. Comprende?
1. “Immigrant Song”
The original. In the words of many, a brilliant opening track to a brilliant album. Now, I personally am not much of a Zepplin fan… I’ll give you all a minute to collect yourselves from my blasphemy… so needless to say, I scoured for a cover that I felt trumped this classic rock classic… yeah…
… and here it is! Taken from the soundtrack of the 2011 film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, comes this diddy of industrial brilliance, produced and performed by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs!, producer Atticus Ross, and none other than the *Pope of industrial music, Trent Reznor.
*denotes a backhanded opinion that Trent Reznor would make a great Pope.
Blasphemy, you say! How could you, someone as musically cultured and experienced as yourself, say that any version of “Immigrant Song” can even hold a candle to the original? Here’s your answer: Robert Plant isn’t singing on it.
2. “I Fought the Law”
Oh, what a twisted journey “I Fought the Law” has taken. The original is usually credited to the Bobby Fuller Four, but in reality, this song was the first recorded by The Crickets after the untimely death of bandleader Buddy Holly. Written by new band member Sonny Curtis, the song never received airplay, but was included on the 1960 album, In Style with the Crickets, and was included as a B-Side on the “A Sweet Love” single. However, it was another band from West Texas that took the song up the ladder.
In 1965, El Paso’s own Bobby Fuller Four recorded a version of the song that exploded into the Billboard Top 10. For a band that had only a few minor hits, the success of “I Fought the Law” lifted them into the pop music spotlight, even performing the song on NBC’s Hullabaloo music variety show in 1966.
Sadly, six months after the release, Bobby Fuller himself was found dead by asphyxiation in Los Angeles. While it was ruled a suicide, many believe him to have been murdered.
The mighty Clash! A staple of the late-70’s, early 80’s British punk scene and one of the most lauded punk bands in history. They, too, got their hands on this song, releasing it on their 1979 EP, The Cost of Living, and the American version of their eponymous debut studio album. The Clash’s version was used in 1989 during Operation Just Cause, where the U.S. military blasted loud music to get Manuel Noriega to give himself up.
The Dead Kennedy’s version appears on their B-sides and rarities album, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, and features altered lyrics and an altered title. “I Fought the Law (And I Won)” was about the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk in 1978. This version is harder and in poorer sound quality than many of the other versions, which in all honesty, is how the Dead Kennedy’s did their thing. The song first appeared on the 1986 compilation Play New Rose For Me — Rose 100. Then, the Dead Kennedy’s broke up.
I must note that mid-00’s pop/punk sellout douches Green Day also recorded a version of this song. It sucks. It really does, but for some reason, Green Day’s “American Idiot” era is still so popular to some. Fuck American Idiot and fuck Green Day!
Trent Reznor’s second appearance on this list! This song is a classic Nine Inch Nails song, from 1994’s The Downward Spiral, and shows a bit of Reznor’s melodic side. The song generates conflict through Reznor’s fanbase, with many arguing if “it’s a suicide note” or if “it’s about trying to find a reason to live”. The one thing they all agree on is that the song is about substance abuse, depression, and self-harm.
Just months before the death of country legend Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around was released and it’s single was Cash’s cover of this song. Trent Reznor himself was initially worried about Cash covering the song, but upon hearing it and seeing the accompanying music video, found himself moved.
“I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goosebumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up being reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.”
To me, this is one of the single best covers of all-time. Johnny Cash captured the pain and the uncertainty of Reznor’s song, stripping it down to him, a guitar, and a single note on a piano. The video, holy Jesus. It’s beautiful, sad, and disturbing, all rolled into four minutes of genius. He reflects on his life, sits at his decaying-fruit surrounded table like a fallen King, and is haunted the ghost of his beautiful wife (granted June Carter Cash died three months after shooting the video).
Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” was ranked by TIME magazine of the “30 ALL-TIME Best Music Videos” and by NME as the greatest music video of all-time.
So, let me explain. I’m not saying this is a superior cover to Cash’s. May God strike me down if I ever say that, sober or not. This is here as a representation of when covers can go wrong. Granted, Kermit the Frog is definitely going through the motions that the original version of the song implies, but for me, it’s more seeing Muppets in that environment is disturbing to me. I grew up watching the old Muppet movies and the “classics” from the 1990’s, so I would have the same reaction if it was, say, done by the characters from… I dunno… some other show that was important to me as a kid.
However, if it were done with characters from Disney movies, I’d find it hilarious.
4. “All Along the Watchtower”
This is hard. I love Bob Dylan and his version is the shit…
… but Hendrix’s version is an electric guitar masterpiece. However…
… there is definitely something to be said for Michael Hedges, who is a better vocalist than Dylan and a better guitarist than Hendrix. <—- Not blasphemy! It’s true!
5. “Jackie Blue”
Have you heard of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils? I didn’t think so, but this song reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975. It kind of sounds like their late-60’s refugees.
Billy Corgan is a captain of covering obscure songs. Recorded in 1991 as part of the Gish sessions, their cover made it’s way onto the compilation album 20 Explosive Dynamic Super Smash Hit Explosions!
6. “Last Caress”
This could be another instance where I could be called a blasphemer. The Misfits are one of the legendary bands from the punk scene and their song “Last Caress” is considered to be a classic from their original lineup. Including the popular lines “I’ve got something to say / I killed your baby today / And it doesn’t matter much to me as long as it’s dead” and “I’ve got something to say / I raped your mother today / And it doesn’t matter much to me as long as she’s spread”, I’ve lost count as to how many times I’ve heard this coming out of the mouth of some awkward, high school poser on his way to his neighborhood Hot Topic.
Enter Metallica. Their cover on Garage, Inc. is actually the same one from their 1987 EP The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited. It’s a little cleaner sounding and has more of thrash vibe, which for whatever reason, I prefer over the original, spacey quality of Danzig’s.
7. “Blinded by the Light”
Ha! I bet you didn’t know this! This song was originally on Bruce Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings From Ashbury Park, N.J.. It was released in 1972 and no one gave a crap, well, until Born To Run came out a few years later. Believe it or not, this is a Springsteen track that didn’t chart.
This one, however, is the one everyone fucking remembers! It has some of the best effect-laden guitar work in history and has become synonymous with memories of your parents listening to classic rock stations during your youth. You know, back when the radio existed. The song went to #1 like everywhere and has some altered lyrics to reflect the people Manfred Mann met on the way to becoming famous. Oh, and apparently it’s also a song about feminine hygiene products, which makes it ever more bad ass!